We bid farewell to Puerto Escondido and headed north for Isla Carmen. The island, about 20 miles long, maybe 5 miles at its widest, is just 10 miles east of Loreto and offers a multitude of anchorages with lots of things to do and see. In 2006 we sailed to and, anchored in Isla Carmen’s Bahia Salinas anchorage. We were told to leave because we didn’t have a national park pass. It was a bit frustrating in 2006 not to see this place.
One of our goals this time was to acquire national park passes so we could visit the Sea of Cortez islands we weren’t allowed to explore in 2006. We did just that while moored in La Paz last month. Getting the park passes was an adventure teaching us that bureaucratic dysfunction is not unique to the Estados Unidos. Our two-day labyrinthine journey seeking The Person Who Knows About Park Permits In Mexico merits a separate blog entry. We’ll see.
We had hoped to return to Bahia Salinas this time around, but the anchorage would not have provided good protection from the uncomfortable seasonal south winds. So, we followed our cruising guide’s advice and pulled into Puerto Ballandra, an anchorage on Isla Carmen’s west side, offering our preferred wind protection plus a hike that could take us to Bahia Salinas. When we pulled into Puerto Ballandra, we had this lovely spot to ourselves. Soon, however, more boats arrived. Our new cruising friend Steve, aboard Polecat, pulled in and invited us to dinner.
Over our two-day stay at Ballandra, the anchorage proved to be a simply lovely and serene anchorage. And yet, as we explored, Puerto Ballandra would also give us a more complicated Baja environment experience then we had expected. After getting the boat safely anchored and attending to a few tasks on board, we loaded the dinghy with
dive skins, masks, snorkels, and fins. We motored to a rock outcropping to see what was there. We were not disappointed. Schools of yellow and black striped Sargeant Majors, colorful Wrasses, elegant Damsel fish guarding their rocky territory, comical fish with googly eyes and spinning top and bottom fins – these sea denizens dazzled us with their beauty and unending activity. For us, their movement and interactions were hypnotic. Certainly for the fish, it was all about survival. We floated above large boulders housing all these elegant creatures. None of them seemed afraid of us. But did we truly understand what was going on under water? I caught sight of a long – perhaps two or three foot – extremely slender fish. I thought, at the time, it was a Needle or Coronetfish. I decided it was a Coronetfish as it lazily slid by my snorkled face, ignoring the nearby multitude of smaller fishes.
The Coronetfish were deceptively passive. During a beach walk after our snorkel session, I watched one in the water. The fish was suspended, seemingly asleep, in the warm water. A minnow-sized fish passed casually in front of the Needle/Coronet. Bad mistake. The Coronetfish darted forward and literally inhaled the small fish. It was a rather shocking thing to witness – after all we had just been snorkeling in a Finding Nemo-esque fish bowl.
That night, we enjoyed dinner with Steve and Polecat. Steve barbequed a superb turkey with yams dinner. We contributed salad and dessert. The three of us discussed our cruising plans and recent experiences; and, Puerto Ballandra. Steve brought up the issue of bees, relevant to the dozen or so hovering around us throughout dinner. The little insects were the honeybee variety. I wasn’t bothered but fascinated – honeybees had become so rare in Portland. Here, the bees were quite numerous and assertive.
Steve wondered if the bees were the fabled “Africanized” Mexican honeybees who would attack perceived threats en masse.
“Our guidebook mentions that honeybees come onboard looking for fresh water – they’re just thirsty,” I said. “Honeybees don’t go out of their way to sting – it’s kind of suicidal for them to do that.”
“Well, I hit one of them with a towel. It stung the towel,” said Steve. “I guess these bees aren’t so concerned about longevity.”
Cetacean has screens for all her ports and the companionway. We were able to limit the bees’ entry, especially if we kept fresh water unavailable to them. We invited Steve to dinner aboard Cetacean the next evening.
Looking for Bahia Salinas but finding out about Isla Carmen
We woke early the next morning to hike to the east side of Isla Carmen using an arroyo we hoped would take us to Bahia Salinas.
Ron noticed small trenches (about one-half inch deep by about one inch wide) crossing the at-first sandy trail surface. “What do you think makes these trenches?” he said. “Probably snakes,” I said warily. We saw several of the trenches when Ron discovered the engineers – ants. It was amazing to watch. These tiny red creatures went back and forth carrying enormous cargo. Undoubtedly, their transit carved the trench into the ground. “Um, let’s get moving Ron,” I said. “There’s a bunch of these guys closing ranks around my feet.”
The trail through the arroyo, really a wide, dry river bed, would lead us across a contantly changing surface. When the trail steepened, we rock and boulder hopped. Somewhere in time – hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago – water gushed across the island, piling up the rocks and boulders and carrying sand to form the arroyo or this river bed we used for our trail.
The surface became sandy but thick with all kinds of plants and small trees – some of them quite beautiful – remarkably thriving in this arrid desolation. But, all the plants had thorns among or on their foliage. Our cruising guide mentioned that wild big horn sheep lived on the island. Eating this brush was probably pretty challenging. Getting through it to follow the trail required patience and care. The Cardons towered majestically over the low-growing thorned brush. The landscape was another Baja As we moved further along the trail, we encountered gangs of tiny black flies. Our guidebook said these flies were quite common, and though they are annoying, they didn’t bite. Well, the annoying behavior was certainly true. However, they DID bite any uncovered skin, leaving behind itchy red bumps. Ron wasn’t bitten as much as I was. I decided that my sunscreen was probably attracting the flies. After hiking for several hours without reaching the other side of Isla Carmen, we realized that we needed to return to the boat to get through the midday heat and prepare our shared dinner, which was to be served chilled.
We hustled back to Cetacean, cooked and assembled the dinner components and then spent the rest of the afternoon working on writing and photo projects as the temperatures continued to rise into the 90s. We are beginning to understand why people (cruisers and nationals alike) seem to vanish between 1 and 6 p.m. every day. It’s incredibly hot. If you are in a sheltered anchorage, you don’t get any wind. Duh. It’s hot and there’s not a lot of relief. So, ones’ energy is allocated differently. If you want to hike, you start early and finish up at noon. Some people take naps in the afternoon because it’s difficult to sleep at night. Amazing how long it takes to change ingrained habits.
Dinner with Steve and a starry, starry night
“Sorry I’m early. I can’t take it anymore.”
It was Steve and his dinghy on our port side. The bees had been visiting him much of the day. He had been stung at least four times.
“But,” he said, grinning happily, “I’ve brought a lot of beer and homemade salsa!”
We spent another fun evening with Steve. I hope he liked our chilled dinner. His salsa was great. After he returned to Polecat, where he hopefully had no more honeybee visits for the evening, Ron motored to shore and spent the next three hours time-lapse shooting the night sky.
Ron caught the International Space Station as it shot across the sky.
Later, he captured spectacular moving images of the Milky Way and dozens of constellations as the earth rotated on its axis.
Leaving Ballandra, but hoping to someday return
Next morning, we pulled up the anchor around 8 a.m. to head for Caleta San Juanico, an anchorage on the Baja Sur east coast. We enjoyed Puerto Ballandra so much, including the unexpected challenges. Puerto Ballandra made such an impression. I am reminded of the book Life of Pi where the main character (Pi) is washed up on an eden-like island. Pi lives well there but luckily discovers that the island is actually a living organism consuming anything walking on its grounds. He narrowly escapes, taking Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger, along with him. Puerto Ballandra is hardly so rife with metaphor as Life of Pi, but Puerto Ballandra can’t be taken for granted. What’s there survives because living is a struggle. I’m stopping the digression and will just state: Puerto Ballandra is a beautiful, wild place that can’t be missed. We definitely plan to return some day.